Rest quietly, the Lord of the Rings fans, because our long hair-raising nightmare is over: after months of uncertainty, everyone can now watch Amazon Prime rings of power and confirm that the first dwarf ever seen on screen does indeed have a beard.
Ahead of the premiere, The Daily Beast spoke with actress Sophia Nomvete, who plays Princess Disa, the first female dwarf ever portrayed on screen in a Tolkein adaptation. Although the career-changing role presented many opportunities, Nomvete’s enthusiasm burst to the surface when I asked about the beard. “I was so excited,” the actress said with undeniable verve. “I knew I wanted it. Everybody knew we wanted it.
Like everything else in Amazon’s meticulously produced and obscenely expensive new TV series, Nomvete says great care was taken in selecting Disa’s facial hairstyle, applied “hair by hair.”
We first meet Disa when young Elrond – played in the Robert Aramayo series and by Hugo Weaving in the Peter Jackson films – shows up at the secret kingdom of the dwarves to ask a favor from his old friend, her husband Durin. (It doesn’t go well at first.) In her character breakdown, Nomvete recalls that Disa was portrayed as very motherly and warm, but with a fierce warrior side. How fitting, then, that she makes her first appearance while chasing her children in circles.
When asked how she would describe her character, Nomvete responded with a Tolkien-like metaphor: “She has real water around her, a kind of watery temper. But water can crush and wither a mountain.
Disa “has this shameless beauty. Heat. Calm. Joy. But she’s also kind of a badass,” Nomvete noted, adding that she can smash rocks by modulating her pitch as she sings. “She draws power from her voice to literally move mountains.”
Nomvete still remembers that when she first met her on-screen husband, Owain Arthur, they were staying at the same hotel. As he descended in an elevator, she recalled with humorous fondness, “I could literally hear him in the hallway – he’s so loud.”
It didn’t take much for the actors to develop their chemistry. Apparently, everything was in that first meeting.
“We were lit by fire – when we were on set, we didn’t see daylight until we walked out.”
“We just closed our eyes, the two of us did this huge corny band and we just said, ‘We’re fine,'” recalls Nomvete with a laugh. “And then we just went and had a cup of tea, and we laughed, and we had great potty humor. There was a sociability and security around us from the start.
In describing what it’s like to play a marriage like this – a loving, respectful, and united marriage – Nomvete borrowed a line widely quoted from Sean Bean’s Boromir: “It’s a gift.”
The production of the show was actually a blessed time for Nomvete in many ways. Five days before learning that she had won the role, she had given birth to a baby girl. Even on that first call, Nomvete said, the production established that they were willing to support her as she juggled early parenthood, even asking what arrangements she might need to breastfeed during the long production days. . This support continued when Nomvete first met costume designer Kate Hawley, who made sure her costume came off at the shoulders to make nursing easier.
“We’re in a position, apparently, where you can land the biggest gig of your entire career while the baby is very engaged and the midwife is on speed dial,” Nomvete said. “It was a crazy, amazing and hugely empowering time actually. … I knew that was how I wanted it to be. I knew I wanted to nurture her that way and I knew I never wanted to, never let it stop, no matter what was going on around me.”
“I hope I am one of many shining examples of how the film industry can just open its mind and its heart so that we can do what we need to do to pass, whatever the scale or the breadth of our work,” said Nomvete.
In this case, the scale is huge – as in, rings of powerThe first season reportedly cost Amazon $715 million. One destination for that money — aside from the fake beards applied a hair at a time — was the show’s sets, built wherever possible to give the cast some real-world inspiration. As Nomvete described the experience of planting his dwarven boots on “real rocks of New Zealand soil”, my mind flashed back, momentarily, to Nathan Fielder in Repetition. The results are however undeniable: rings of power is a memorably beautiful series, down to the last pebble.
“We were lit by fire – when we were on set, we didn’t see daylight until we got out,” Nomvete said. “Entering the set, it literally felt like we were in the middle of a mountain.”
Tolkien’s literary universe is full of stories about dwarves, Nomvete notes, but information about dwarf women, in particular, remains a little lighter. More unprecedented than seeing a dwarf on screen for the first time, however, is how rings of power works to reverse a more pernicious aspect of the Lord of the Rings and its previous adaptations, which tended to equate dark skin with evil. (Remember when The Hobbit boxed his casting director in 2010 for deciding that a woman of Pakistani descent was too dark to play a halfling?)
rings of power takes a different approach. Alongside Nomvete playing a dwarf, Ismael Cruz Córdova – who is Afro-Latin – plays an elven warrior. The Harfoots, a nomadic tribe of hobbits, are also diverse. As expected, a noisy and toxic corner of the the Lord of the Rings fandom has complained that such depictions are “inauthentic” to Tolkein’s fictional universe. But as Nomvete said, “People of color do exist in the world. And so I find it utter madness that we don’t exist or can’t exist in the world of fantasy, of all places.
“Now generations will have what I didn’t have, which is to be able to enjoy [the story], NS are also seen staring at them. And they will be able to exist not only in our world, but in the world of fantasy.